An Iranian Christian prisoner tells about his experience in Iran
So far, a great number of Iranian Christian converts have left their homeland due to social problems, pressures and threats, arrests, imprisonment and being sentenced to prison. Ali Golchin is a Christian who spent 87 days in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Even after he was released, security authorities didn’t leave him alone.
Ali Golchin is a Christian convert who was charged with evangelism and action against national security. He was arrested and jailed by the Islamic regime’s security authorities on April 29, 2010. Long hours of interrogation by security officers and being held in solitary confinement imposed a great pressure on him. In addition, security authorities didn’t leave him alone after his release. They watched him continuously, threatening and pressuring him. All these actions caused him to leave his homeland for unknown territories, just like tens of other oppressed Iranian Christians have done. Mohabat News interviewed Ali Golchin and asked him about his current situation. You can read the interview below:
- Mr. Golchin, what caused you to leave Iran?
It was about two years ago, on April 29, 2010 when I was arrested as a security suspect and transferred to prison. Although I was released later on bail, threats by security authorities did not end even after I was acquitted of all charges. It impacted my life severely and I was feeling that it could happen again at any time. I could not bear the situation any longer so I convinced my family and myself to leave the country. Actually the threats and the incidents that I predicted could happen at any time increased my desire to leave Iran.
- After you were arrested, a court sentenced you to one year in prison. What allegation was made against you that resulted in such a verdict?
The accusations the judge charged me with the same day that I was arrested and before being transferred to Evin prison, were actions against national security and Christian propagation through organized activities, evangelism and recruitment for Churches. The judge issued a warrant for my arrest based on these accusations.
- Did they ever put you in solitary confinement during the time of your detainment? If so, how long were you there? What was your situation there?
Yes, they did. I was held in solitary confinement since the day I was arrested and transferred to prison. In fact, I spent all 87 days in solitary confinement. As you can tell from its name, solitary confinement is a small room. One and half meters wide, two and half meters long and at the most three meters high, I believe. Only one person is held there with no contact with the world outside or even with others in prison. It is a place to put the prisoner under severe mental pressure. We all know that man is a social creature and needs contact with others. He needs to speak with others. However, you are refused everything in there. In addition, you’re also physically pressured there. It is hot in summers and I am sure it will be as cold in winters. It has a steel door which is always closed. It is only opened when they want to feed you or take you for interrogation with your eyes blindfolded. That is a harsh place. I think putting someone in solitary confinement is the worst kind of torture possible to persecute someone.
- It is said that you were arrested because of keeping Bibles. Is it a crime to own or carry a Bible in Iran?
I was accused of different things. One was keeping a Bible and the other was leading house churches in various cities including Tehran and other counties. Charging me with this, in fact, they said by doing this you are promoting Christianity among non-Christians. However, all our works and activities were dedicated to Christians, to lead and teach them. Also, according to the law, my lawyer told me, “Neither keeping a Bible, nor carrying it is a crime. And as a Christian, being in contact with other Christians as a teacher is not illegal!” However, I was charged with these things and arrested because of carrying Bibles as well as for leading house churches.
- Do Christian converts in Iran face any restrictions for going to church? If so, what are they?
I think Christian converts have problems going to church for various reasons. Many factors taken together cause these problems. One of these is having a non-Christian family. In the first place non-Christian families can cause problems for Christian converts to go to church.
Second is the limited number of official churches in Iran and their distance from Christians’ homes. With more than 12 million people in Tehran, the number of churches in this huge city is less than the number of fingers on your hand. And the reason for this is that the Islamic regime of Iran does not allow Farsi-language churches to operate and also does not grant construction permits to Christians in order to build new churches.
Third is the atmosphere prevailing over the church. Especially, in recent years pressures have escalated and the Intelligence Office of the Islamic Republic has ordered church officials to prevent new-believers from entering their churches or risk the complete cancellation of their Farsi services.
The wave of arrests of Christian leaders, who were holding Farsi church services, is another reason for these restrictions, which terrorizes new Christians.
Identification of Christian converts by security authorities is another important reason. After identifications, Christian converts are summoned or arrested and then released after being interrogated and terrorized.
The next restriction is the order issued by the Iranian Intelligence Office calling on churches to cancel their Farsi church services on any days other than Sundays.
However, none of these restrictions became a serious barrier for Christians, but resulted in the growth of house churches in every corner of the cities.
- With respect to these pressures and restrictions imposed by the Islamic regime of Iran to prevent Christians from attending the churches, how do Christians have their fellowship?
I have personally experienced it. After I was released from prison, I could not be active in the church as I was before. The reason was because all my activities, going to the church and my contacts with other Christians were being watched closely. However, we tried to have fellowship with new believers or other Christian converts through holding house-church meetings. We were filling the vacuum of not being able to go to official churches by going to house-church gatherings which were held underground. This way we managed to partially satisfy this need.
- What kind of place is a house-church? And what kind of activities are done there?
As I said, due to pressures and restrictions against them, Christians turn their own homes into places of fellowship and worship. Generally, Christian converts gather there considering security matters. One person leads the group in worship and they have fellowship there. The activities in house-churches include worshiping, singing hymns, praying, teaching and preaching from the Bible. There are even people who have access to some Christian doctrinal books. They bring their books with them so that others can receive teaching and grow in their Christian faith. Nothing is going on in house-churches but spiritual fellowship and worship.
- While you were still in jail, many news services and media published news about your arrest and detention. From your experience, do these things help the situation of the person in detention? Or do they worsen it? What was your experience in this regard?
When I was in custody, occasionally it prompted some changes in the interrogators’ behavior, giving permission for me to visit my family and call them on the phone more frequently.
When I was released, I noticed that while I was in prison, my situation had been reported in the media and internet campaigns had been launched. Also some interviews had been conducted concerning my situation. Then I realized that it can be a great help to a prisoner’s situation when news about him/her is spread and Human Rights organizations are informed in this respect. I would like to speak about a memory from the time while I was still in jail and totally unaware of what was going on outside.
One day the interrogator who used to question me in Evin prison, came to me before an interrogation session and said in a friendly voice, “What is this they are doing? We have arrested and brought you here, and outside they are reporting this news. Websites write about this, launch campaigns, conduct interviews and then pressure us through Human Rights channels and international community to release you!”
So, as they said themselves, it shows that these kinds of reports work as leverage in favor of the prisoner and at least cause them to treat him/her more favorably. Another positive impact is that it brings awareness to the world about the situation of the Church and Christians in Iran. And people of the world would know about what is happening in Iran. They would know that a Christian prisoner is subjected to the harshest situations without really doing anything wrong or committing any crime and can potentially face the most severe sentences.
Reporting on the situation of such people can be a great help for their release or at least it can reduce the pressure on them and even soften the court’s ruling.